Texas is big deer country.
All of it.
There are a number of other states that feature excellent habitat and genetics but none measure up to the sheer size of the Lone Star State’s population. The same can be said when it comes to headgear, and simply put, almost any hunter toting archery gear in October or a tested rifle during the dead of winter has the opportunity to find the buck of a lifetime not far away.
While the archery framework begins in roughly two months, it’s never too early to discuss deer seasons.
Alan Cain, Texas Parks & Wildlife’s white-tailed deer program leader, said our state remains ahead of the pack when it comes to trophy hunting. Cain said that no matter what part of Texas you call home, the effectiveness of habitat management clearly is evident. He said that hunters not only are becoming more educated on how they hunt but also are learning more and more about practical management strategies, which can be implemented not only on high-fence tracts but also family deer leases.
Cain said to bank on at least another average year for big deer – which really means it has shaped up to be superb in most locales.
“I expect average to slightly above average antlers this year,” Cain said. “Bucks are in good body condition and should do well in the antler growth department. Also, we had good fawn crops back in 2005, 2007 and 2010 … so expect to see more bucks in the 7½-, 5½- and 2½-year-old age classes as compared to other age classes this year.”
Any deer in those upper age classes is well into what is considered a trophy buck stage, especially if they’ve received proper forage for much of the year.
Cain said that competition for forage in drier years is much higher, which certainly has the potential to affect antler quality and body weights.
With increased competition and good carryover of bucks from this past season, it could affect the rut in some locales, which Cain said has a lot to do with range conditions, and in the early stages of the fall many deer still are in what is classified as a summer pattern, especially in hotter areas such as the brush country of South Texas.
Cain said that despite being what most hunters would consider an average season, last fall wasn’t bad at all in most areas.
“Last year the average Boone & Crockett score statewide for 2½- and 3½-year-olds was 101.73,” Cain said. “And it was 120.17 for 4½- and 5½-year-old bucks. For 6½-year-olds and older the average was 122.25. The seven-year total average for 6½-year-old bucks was only three inches off despite the drought being so severe.”
Cain pointed out a key theory to deer management that he and other biologists preach to landowners and land managers, one that especially came into focus last fall as a result of lingering drought that gripped the state.
“Our message to folks was get out and start reducing the population because of the drought, and so if they did that and knocked the numbers back and the drought knocked some numbers back, the densities are going to be a little bit lower,” he said. “Some hunters don’t particularly like that but on the other hand you’ve got a lot more resources out there this year nutritionally speaking so the overall herd is going to do better. They’ve got more groceries and less competition. Everyone should maximize what they’re getting from the native habitat. It should lead to pretty good quality antlers and overall production.”
Cain also noted that carryover of younger deer bodes well not only for this season but at least the next two or three.
“It’s been a relatively mild spring from what we’re used to and that’s going to help a tremendous amount,” he said. “Biologists look at fawn crops for an entire ecoregion so there’s going to be some difference on different ranches.”
Cain pointed to surveys done by biologists across the state, noting that even after lingering drought deer always seem to find a way to survive – if not flourish. The biggest thing he said hunters should carry along is a hearty dose of perspective, but also take heart in that when hunting in Texas, things are vastly different than in many states.
“I’m not expecting any bumper type of year like 2010 when we had two state records killed,” he said. “I think we have some lag effects from the drought last year. When our biologists were doing the age, weight and antler surveys they didn’t report an enormous number of deer that were in poor condition. They were in fair shape … they made it through the year and then we got winter precipitation so things worked out well.
“Hunters ought to feel lucky that we live in Texas with the largest deer herd in the nation. There’s a lot of opportunities to harvest quality bucks wherever you’re at anywhere in the state. Our biggest problem is that we probably don’t harvest enough deer, which is good that hunters have the opportunities to harvest more deer.”
Will Leschper’s work has been recognized by the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the Texas Outdoor Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter and at Will Leschper Outdoors.